"Fresh and imaginative fictional portraits."
--Publishers Weekly

Life Studies

Stories of Art

Cover for: Life Studies

LA Times Bestseller

Manet, Monet, Renoir, van Gogh, Cézanne--even the names are powerful evocations of our cultural wealth and pleasure. In the admiration of their work, we forget that famous painters had concerns other than painting--a baby crying, models to appease, a dying wife, the pressure to sell in order to eat, sexual temptations, attractions in the midst of grief, distractions, addictions, illness.

Origin of the Book

The Stories, The Artists, The Characters


Paintings and Passages

Discussion Questions

Teachers' Guide

Chronology of Impressionism


Winner of Theodor Geisel Award, Best Book Published in 2005, San Diego Book Awards


These stories focus on individuals peripheral to the lives of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters, people whose personal challenges are played out against the artists at work.


They are stories of ordinary people--Monet's gardener forced to choose between his wife and the painter he loves; a disillusioned banker suffering the ennui of the modern age; a naïve wet nurse facing the loss every mother fears so that another woman can paint; Manet's widow puzzling out the tangle of her husband's sexual indiscretions; a tormented child throwing stones at the painter his parents reviled; an orphan piecing together imaginings of her father, Modigliani. Each character has his or her own private issues to work out. Sometimes art helps.

Renoir The Swing    
   VanGogh Portrait of Armand Roulin 

Counterbalancing these historic stories are contemporary ones in which non-artists encounter art in meaningful, sometimes surprising ways. They ask vital questions. How can art help us through grief, confusion, loneliness? Why do we feel lost, meager, adrift without it? How does it communicate when words fail?


Again, ordinary people--a construction worker in an art museum for the first time; a bright, sassy foster child who expresses her longing by "correcting" the Virgin Mary's painted expression; a grandfather offering a mute black girl's humble pencil drawing as a test of love when he visits his wife in the penitentiary. That art can be understandable, useful, moving, and meaningful to ordinary people is the underlying premise of these stories.

Jeanne Hebuterne Portrait of the Artist's Wife    
   Seurat Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte 

The whole story of art requires both perspectives -- historic and contemporary. Together they demonstrate the vital role aesthetics plays in the fully lived life.

"The collection reminds us that the bountiful promise of art is everywhere. Stimulating and enriching."

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